The Inauguration of Formalism: Aestheticism and the Productive Opacity Principle

Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics 2 (24):20-30 (2022)
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This essay presents the Aestheticism of the 19th century as the foundational movement of modernist-formalist aesthetics of the 20th century. The main principle of this movement is what I denominate “productive opacity”. Aestheticism has not been recognized as a philosophical aesthetic theory. However, its definition of artwork as an exclusive kind of form—a deep, opaque form—is among the most precise ever given in the discipline. This essay offers an interpretation of aestheticism as a formalist theory, referred to here as “deep formalism”, focusing on the thinking of leading aestheticists, Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, and James Whistler. These three thinkers defined artwork as a form saturated with an inextricable content, viz. opaque form.



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Michalle Gal
Shenkar College

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